, Volume 52, Issue 4, pp 644-654
Date: 28 Oct 2006

Microbial Communities on Glacier Surfaces in Svalbard: Impact of Physical and Chemical Properties on Abundance and Structure of Cyanobacteria and Algae

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Abstract

Microbial communities occurring in three types of supraglacial habitats—cryoconite holes, medial moraines, and supraglacial kames—at several glaciers in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard were investigated. Abundance, biovolume, and community structure were evaluated by using epifluorescence microscopy and culturing methods. Particular emphasis was laid on distinctions in the chemical and physical properties of the supraglacial habitats and their relation to the microbial communities, and quantitative multivariate analyses were used to assess potential relationships. Varying pH (4.8 in cryoconite; 8.5 in a moraine) and texture (the proportion of coarse fraction 2% of dry weight in cryoconite; 99% dw in a kame) were found, and rather low concentrations of organic matter (0.3% of dry weight in a kame; 22% dw in cryoconite) and nutrients (nitrogen up to 0.4% dw, phosphorus up to 0.8% dw) were determined in the samples. In cryoconite sediment, the highest numbers of bacteria, cyanobacteria, and algae were found, whereas relatively low microbial abundances were recorded in moraines and kames. Cyanobacterial cells were significantly more abundant than microalgal ones in cryoconite and supraglacial kames. Different species of the cyanobacterial genus Leptolyngbya were by far the most represented in all samples, and cyanobacteria of the genera Phormidium and Nostoc prevailed in cultures isolated from cryoconite samples. These species are considered opportunistic organisms with wide ecological valency and strong colonizing potential rather than glacial specialists. Statistical analyses suggest that fine sediment with higher water content is the most suitable condition for bacteria, cyanobacteria, and algae. Also, a positive impact of lower pH on microbial growth was found. The fate of a microbial cell deposited on the glacier surface seems therefore predetermined by the physical and chemical factors such as texture of sediment and water content rather than spatial factors or the origin of sediment.